England is home to some of Europe’s blockbuster sights, including Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle. Outside of London, there’s heaps to see too, from Bath’s glittering Georgian architecture to Manchester’s music scene to two of the world’s oldest university towns. Add to this 10 national parks, 34 Areas of Outstanding National Beauty and 2,795 miles of beach-fringed coastline and it isn’t hard to see why over 30 million tourists visit every year. At just 130,279-squared-kilometres, England is a comparatively small country, but don’t make the mistake of underestimating how long it takes to cover good ground. If you’re planning on making the trip, we’ve put together a cheat sheet on how to travel England.
Top tips on how to travel England
1. Don’t spend the whole time in London
London is one of the world’s most exciting cities. You could spend months exploring every single neighbourhood without scratching the surface — even locals are constantly discovering new pockets and tube stations they’ve never visited. It’s always changing too, with a shifting skyline full of cranes and half-constructed skyscrapers. But London is one city in a country full of them. Spend a decent amount of time in London, yes, but you can always come back for more later.
If you like lyrical landscapes, take the train out to the Cotswolds to explore post-card perfect villages and rolling hills. Outdoorsy types should hotfoot to the Lake District’s dramatic peaks or fast-flowing waterfalls in Durham. If it’s beaches you’re after, take your pick from Cornwall’s white sand beaches and craggy cliffs, Norfolk’s never-ending sandy stretches or Kent’s traditional seaside towns.
2. Don’t underestimate the busses
England likes a bus. Compared with trains, tubes and trams, it’s a cheap way to travel too. London’s iconic Routemaster double-deckers only cost £1.50 per journey, and if you take two in one hour you’ll only need to pay for one. Other cities have their own regional travel cards that are valid on all public transport within the local area. For instance, Manchester offers the ‘System One Travelcard‘, valued on most buses, trains and trams.
Coaches also offer cheap, efficient travel. The National Express is the UK’s main coach provider, but there are other operators such as Megabus and Flixbus now operating between most major cities. Prices start from as little as 99p each way, so if you’re looking to keep your costs down it’s well worth hopping on a coach.
3. Push your pedal power
Cheap, eco-friendly and healthy, it’s a mystery why more people don’t take to two wheels when travelling around England. The National Cycle Network is a UK-wide network of signed paths and routes for walking, cycling and wheeling. There are currently over 340 routes to choose from, ranging from 4.8 km loops around Bristol’s docks to epic 2034 km trails from Dover up to the tippy top of the country. Other popular cycling routes include the Jurassic Coast, the Northumberland Coast and the Essex Rivers.
4. Don’t underestimate the food
English cuisine has moved on an awful lot since World War II, mostly thanks to immigration. Nowadays you’ll find a staggering range of restaurants, not just in the big cities either. The biggest mistake you can make when it comes to eating in England is restricting yourself to trying to so-called ‘authentic’ English food. While nothing quite compares to fish and chips on the beach, it’s not easy to find deserving iterations of old-fashioned grub like Pie and Mash and Bubble and Squeak because they’ve mostly been eaten at home. If you do find them on the menu, it’s most probably a tourist trap.
That said, come Sunday you should absolutely hole yourself up in a pub for a traditional Sunday lunch and pint of cider.
5. Make the most of free museums
Attractions like Legoland and Alton Towers are expensive, but most of the best museums and galleries in the country are free to visit. They’re not all in London either — though it is home to the likes of the Victoria&Albert Museum, British Museum and Science Museum. How about a trip to the National Football Museum in Manchester? Or a day out at the Royal Armouries in Leeds? Liverpool’s World Museum is brilliant too.
6. Take the train
While it might be tempting to take a budget airline from one side of the country to the other, it’s best to try and avoid domestic flights where possible. In England, airports tend to be located far out from the city, adding valuable time to your journey. When you consider this, plus additional waiting time at the airports either end, it’s unlikely to take you less time than the train. England’s train network is pretty comprehensive and connects most major towns and cities. There are high-speed services to take advance of too.
But make sure you book your tickets as far in advance as you can. England has some of the most expensive train tickets in Europe if purchased on the day of travel, but some of the cheapest if bought far enough in advance. It’s usually cheaper to book a return train ticket too. English train fares tend to be structured to make a return journey marginally more expensive than single tickets, unlike most other European countries where they will be twice the price.
7. Stay in a pub
English inns are a real national institution. Nothing feels quite as luxurious as tucking into a hearty meal by a roaring fire, then tumbling upstairs to bed. Many pubs across England offer accommodation, complete with ancient beams, cosy nooks and crannies and creaky floorboards. You can stay in a hotel anywhere.